It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Down the Mississippi

While the English were planting thirteen colonies along the Atlantic seaboard, between Nova Scotia and Florida, the French were equally busy farther north. As we have seen, Breton fishermen visited the banks of Newfoundland early in the sixteenth century, and gave their name to Cape Breton Island. Verrazano and Cartier both crossed the Atlantic in behalf of the French, Cartier naming the St. Lawrence, Canada, and Montreal, and claiming all Acadia (the land east of Maine), together with New France, which was situated in the basin of the Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

Religious troubles had, as we have also seen, led Coligny to try to plant colonies in Carolina and Florida. But the Huguenot settlers were murdered by the Spaniards, and the attempt of De Monts to establish a colony in Maine proved equally unsuccessful. The first real settlement of the French was made at Port Royal (Annapolis), in Acadia (Nova Scotia), in 1604. This colony, composed of thrifty people, in time became prosperous, and the Acadians lived in peace and comfort in their new homes, being on excellent terms with all the neighboring Indians.

In 1608, Champlain, the "Father of New France," a noble, brave, and good Frenchman, crossed the Atlantic for the fourth time. He sailed far up the St. Lawrence, and made a settlement at Quebec, which soon became the chief French town in America. Champlain explored the country for hundreds of miles around there. He was the first European to behold the lake which bears his name, the same year that Hudson sailed up the river to Albany (1609). During these explorations of New France, Champlain made friends with the Algonquin Indians, the great foes of the Iroquois (or Five Nations), who occupied all the central part of what is now New York state.

Old Quebec

The Algonquin Indians, being at war with the Iroquois, persuaded Champlain to help them. His presence in armor in the next battle, and the report of European firearms, so terrified the Iroquois that they were badly beaten on the shore of Lake Champlain. This ever after made them hate the French as cordially as they did their lifelong enemies, the Algonquin Indians. To be able to cope with the latter, who easily got firearms from French traders, the Iroquois began to buy guns from the Dutch; for their usual weapons, tomahawk and bow and arrows, were far less effective than firearms.

The French had come to Quebec with two great purposes in view: the first, to trade for furs, and the second, to convert the Indians. The colonists were, therefore, either trappers, traders, or missionaries. The former went about from place to place to set their traps or trade with the Indians, and were therefore called voyageurs  (travelers), or coureurs de bois  (wood rangers). Finding the European dress unsuited to the rough life they led, these men soon adopted a half-Indian costume of soft deerskin, and learned many of the woodland ways of the redskins.

Wherever the trappers and traders went, priests boldly followed, carrying only a crucifix, a prayer book, and sometimes a portable altar. They diligently taught, preached, and baptized, making every effort to learn the Indian languages as quickly as possible, so they could preach the gospel and win more converts. Full of zeal for their religion, these missionaries were so brave that they soon won the respect of the Indians; and when the latter saw how quietly the priests endured hardships of all kinds, they lent an attentive ear to their teachings.

Both traders and priests were on very friendly terms with the Indians, whose good will they retained by living among them and by making them frequent small presents. As the French hunters considered the Indians their equals, they soon married squaws, and their children, being half Indian and half French, strengthened the bonds between the two races. Little by little, priests and traders pressed farther and farther inland, visiting the Great Lakes, along whose shores they established missions, forts, and trading posts. Finally, they came to what are now Illinois and Wisconsin, where many places still bear the French names then given them.

The most remarkable of all these French traders was Joliet. Not only was he thoroughly at home in the trackless forests, but he could also talk several Indian languages. Hearing the savages tell of a great river flowing southward, he fancied that it must empty into the Pacific Ocean.

Joliet had long been the companion of Marquette, a Catholic priest, so they two resolved to go and explore that region. But the Indians tried to frighten them by telling them there were awful monsters on the "Father of Waters," which swallowed men and canoes.

Frontenac, the governor of New France, having consented to this journey, Marquette and Joliet met at the outlet of Lake Michigan, paddled up to Green Bay, and went up the Fox River. Then their Indian guides carried their canoes across to the Wisconsin River, where, bidding them farewell, the trader, priest, and five voyageurs drifted down the stream to the Mississippi. This was in 1673. Sailing southward for many miles, without seeing a single human being, the explorers came to huge cliffs upon which the Indians had painted rude demons; then they beheld wide prairies and great herds of buffaloes on the right bank of the river.

eastern USA

Some distance farther on they saw a path, and, following it, they came to an Indian village. When the Indians saw the white men draw near, the chief came out to welcome them, shading his eyes with his hand, and saying: "Frenchmen, how bright the sun shines when you come to visit us!" To honor his guests, he had a feast of buffalo meat and fish prepared, and fed the strangers with a huge wooden spoon, just as if they were babies. Other Indians removed fish bones for them with their fingers, blew on their food to cool it, and from time to time poked choice bits into their mouths. As these were Indian good manners, Marquette and Joliet submitted as gracefully as they could. But it seems that it hurt their host's feelings when they refused to taste his best dish, a fat dog nicely roasted!

After spending the night with these Indians, Joliet and Marquette were escorted back to their canoes. Paddling on, they next came to the place where the Missouri joins the Mississippi. The waters of the Missouri were both swift and muddy, and whirled whole trees along as easily as mere chips. After passing the mouth of the Ohio, the explorers saw Indians armed with guns and hatchets, which proved they were near European settlements.

Marquette and Joliet

Fully convinced by this time that the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, and not into the Pacific Ocean, as they had first supposed, and anxious to make this fact known at Quebec, the explorers turned back, south of the mouth of the Arkansas. They had thus reached nearly the same place which De Soto had visited about one hundred and thirty-two years before. Slowly paddling upstream, they now worked their way up the Illinois River, and carried their canoes overland to the Chicago River, through which they reentered Lake Michigan, after eighteen months' journey.

Marquette staid at a mission on Green Bay for a while, then journeyed to the Illinois, and when spring came again, he made an effort to get back to Michilimackinac. But he became so ill that before long he had to be carried ashore, and laid under a tree, where he breathed his last, and was buried.

Meantime, Joliet hastened back to Montreal to make his report to the governor. His canoe upset, and his plans and papers were lost, but the news he brought made the French anxious to secure the land by building trading forts along the rivers that had been explored.

It is because Marquette and Joliet were the first white men who visited this part of the country, that their names have been given to a port and county at the northern end of Lake Michigan, and to a town in Illinois. They were such bold explorers that beautiful monuments have also been erected in their honor.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell